Canucks vs. Wild: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview

James O'Brien
NBC Sports

The NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers kick off the Return to Play plan on August 1. This week, PHT will be previewing each series with a look at storylines and end with our predictions for the eight matchups. In this case, it’s Canucks vs. Wild.

(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild: TV schedule, start times, channels

Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:45 p.m. ET – USA Network
Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, TBD
Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD

Canucks – Wild preview: Top storylines for Stanley Cup Qualifiers series

Can Canucks’ young guns take over this series?

The Canucks and Wild entered the pandemic pause separated by a mere standings point. Yet, as close as these teams were results-wise, the Canucks boast a lopsided advantage in young star power.

None of this is to say that the Wild lack any talent. Even so, if you were to draft players off of both of these teams for the near future, the top picks would be dominated by the likes of Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes.

(Especially since Kirill Kaprizov isn’t allowed to participate in the NHL Return to Play.)

Those stars haven’t dealt with playoff pressure, and criticisms could ratchet up quickly for Pettersson, Hughes, Brock Boeser, and others. It likely wouldn’t help their cause if the Wild maintain their stingy defense from the past couple of seasons, either.

How big a factor will special teams be for Canucks, Wild?

Branching off on that point, the Canucks did a ton of damage on the power play this season. By scoring 57 power-play goals, the Canucks tied the deadly Bruins for second-most in the NHL, and reached that mark in one fewer game played.

As strong as the Wild often have been as an even-strength unit, they struggled on the PK this season, too. That penalty killing unit ranked in the bottom-10 in power-play goals allowed (47) and efficiency (77.2 percent) in 2019-20.

On paper, special teams could be a massive advantage for Vancouver, even if the Wild were respectable on the PP.

Perhaps a couple other factors might mitigate the Canucks’ dominance, and the Wild’s struggles, though? (Even beyond the rust that comes from this long layoff, not to mention the very unusual circumstances.)

Will the Wild be able to get competent goaltending — from Stalock, or someone else?

It’s not fair to say that Devan Dubnyk got Bruce Boudreau fired. Unfortunately, it’s probably fair to claim that Dubnyk ranked as the single biggest force in pushing Boudreau out the door, though.

Dubnyk fell from middle of the pack to downright dismal (.890 save percentage) in 2019-20, forcing the Wild to rely on Alex Stalock to keep their season alive. To the longtime backup’s credit, Stalock did a pretty good job.

That said, the Wild may feel that tug of nostalgia to at least keep Dubnyk in the discussion. After all, all sorts of strange things can happen during a best-of-five series. (With that in mind, don’t totally count out the possibility of seeing Kaapo Kahkonen get some looks — or at least hear people calling for him if things really slide.)

At times, Jacob Markstrom was downright brilliant for the Canucks. He’ll have that strong work — not to mention motivation to earn a new contract as a pending UFA — driving him. But, again, things can escalate quickly in a short series. If the Wild received comparable goaltending, that would be huge.

Still-new elements for the Wild, including Evason as head coach

During the last few seasons, the Wild cycled through a couple GMs, their head coach, and made some significant trades. (Let’s allow a moment for Wild fans to grumble about Nino Niederreiter.)

The NHL Return to Play provides a moment to reflect upon those changes. While it feels like Mats Zuccarello signed ages ago, the Norwegian winger is still trying to find his footing during his first season with the Wild. Players like Alex Galchenyuk, Ryan Donato, Ryan Hartman, and even to an extent Kevin Fiala are still fairly new to the team.

And, while Dean Evason is reasonably familiar with the Wild, he only came on as an assistant in 2018, and just recently saw the “interim” tag removed from his title as head coach.

Who’s out, Who might return for Canucks, Wild?

Canucks: The Canucks look to have a clean bill of health, as the time off seemingly allowed Markstrom and others to get back on track.

Wild: Minnesota also seems as close to full-strength as you can ask for.

More on 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, NHL Return to Play series:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Canucks vs. Wild: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview originally appeared on NBCSports.com

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